Our former landlord is trying to withhold our security deposit and charge us $3,000+ for damages we did not cause. We just received her letter itemizing the "charges" and I just want to make sure we are covering our bases, as it's my first time in this situation. We are in Prince George County, Maryland.
I apologize for the long background:
My fiancee and I moved to the DC area from Michigan at the beginning of August. We were having a very difficult time finding someone to sublet a temporary one bedroom to us, so when a lady offered to rent us her furnished condo in New Carrollton month to month for only $850, we jumped on it. We had some early signs that she was strange--she acted aggressively and insisted on being paid in cash. She did not offer a walkthrough and we did not take photos in the beginning (I wish we had).
The morning after we moved in, we noticed roaches in the bathroom, as well as some traps that she had placed behind the sink. We assessed the situation for a few days and concluded that it was minor--we would see a few in the morning when we turned the light on and then none for the rest of the day. While we probably should have informed her immediately, it didn't seem like a big deal and we weren't planning on staying long. Three weeks after moving in, we spoke on the phone and I brought up the cockroaches. She denied that the condo ever had cockroaches and claimed that she had put down traps just for "defense".
A few weeks later, my fiancee, in a moment of carelessness, locked our keys in the apartment and we were forced to call the landlord to let us in. She was annoyed, as she had every right to be, but we paid her a $50 fee plus her transportation costs. Still, she acted rudely and aggressively, demanding that we remove the small bag of (clean) recyclables and move her various kitchen odds and ends back on the counter (we had shifted some things around to make room for our cookware). The experience was bad enough that we decided to give her a one month notice and find a new place to live. We knew we would be looking for an unfurnished 12 month lease, and her behavior catalyzed the decision for us. I sent her an email informing her that we would be moving out in a month and requested a scheduled walkthrough. I then called and left a voicemail. We never received a response. We called and emailed again later in the month and still no response.
I read on the Maryland Attorney General's website that we needed to send a certified letter requesting the walkthrough, however, we did not have a new address until a few days before we moved out. As soon as we did, I sent the certified letter. Stupidly, I did not take dated photos.
Yesterday, we receive a certified letter from her claiming $3,000+ in charges, including blaming us for the existing cockroaches and claiming that the apartment was filthy. She accompanied it with photos of places in the apartment where there was wear and tear that existed as well as receipts for apparent purchases and cleaning services. FWIW, we cleaned the apartment regularly and it was much cleaner when we left than when we took possession. Her photos don't make the case for any mess.
I have contacted the Attorney General's office and they told me my only option is to file a complaint and they will try to mediate. However, I am learning that renters' rights can vary even at the county level. It appears that I may need to respond to her asserting a dispute of the charges. We plan to take advantage of pro bono legal services nearby. I've been reading this site
and it appears that we may be protected by the fact that she did not disclose any of our rights to the security deposit in our lease.
Does anyone have any experience in this? Are there other steps that we should be taking in case we end up in district court? I realize that I should have sent the certified letter earlier and just listed a friend's address and that we should have taken several photos. But will her attempts to have us pay for her condo's improvements work in court?
Are there other things we can use for leverage, like giving her a bad review on Angie's list? It just makes me angry that landlords can get away with us so easily. I feel like this was her plan all along.
Thanks so much.